Saturday, November 18, 2017

Museum of the Bible Disappoints

Of course there's a Museum of the Bible. I mean, compared to building a giant replica of Noah's Ark, stockpiling a bunch of Biblical artifacts is easy, right? In fact, according to this article from The Washington Post, the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. does have an amazing collection of artifacts from Biblical history, such as one of two known copies of the first edition King James Bible and fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, it's one thing to study the history of the Bible, and another to engage with and understand its teachings.

The “impact” floor is where the deeper shortfall becomes evident. The section offers high-tech exhibits on the Bible’s role in U.S. history, popular culture and the world at large. There’s a motion ride that flies you through Washington to explore biblical references around the city, spraying water at you for an extra thrill. (The tour guide winkingly noted that its designer worked on projects in Paris and Florida for a company beginning with the letter D.) As on the other floors, there is a baffling array of touch-screens and tablets, modern-day interactives and glossy timelines.

Yet while the exhibits dutifully touch on past conflicts involving the Bible (it was deployed in defense of and against slavery!) and play up its crowd-pleasing successes (verses from the book of Genesis helped to define human rights!), overall the museum eschews any difficult engagement with issues of the day. A timeline of the Bible in U.S. history conveniently ends in 1963; its role in our debates on sexuality, contraception and abortion are pointedly left undiscussed. Therein lies the problem. It is increasingly clear that Christianity in America has been reduced to more of a cultural identity than a way of life. Fine, perhaps, if you’re part of the growing minority of Americans who identify as nonreligious or in active opposition to Christian belief. Less so if you had hoped it might yet inspire moral behavior among its adherents.

A cultural Christianity that reveres religious trappings and neglects their requirements is exactly the sort that props up figures such as Ten Commandments-toting, allegedly teen-molesting Senate candidate Roy Moore. (The Gospel of Luke warns that it’s better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a child to stumble; the museum has a millstone replica Moore might want to investigate.) Cosmetic faith is the sort that displays charming engravings from Leviticus 19:34 — “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself” — while celebrating its achievements at Trump International Hotel.

Let me add a little more nuance to this. I don't think it's true that Christianity in general has been reduced to this, just the Poor Oppressed variety of fundamentalism. These folks are maybe twenty percent of the population, or about a quarter of all American Christians. They're just really vocal about dumb stuff like Starbucks cups and reliably make the news. The most extreme example is the Westboro Baptist Church - twenty or so people, mostly relatives - which is smaller than the local Twin Cities body of Ordo Templi Orientis, but so awful that they grab a lot of eyeballs on social media. I mean, they expelled their own founder for not being extreme enough. It's practically a comedy religion.

I'm going to put this one out there again, too - I don't take the Revelation of Saint John literally, but if I did I would have to point out that the "falling away" of Christian who believe themselves virtuous and yet have no real comprehension of God totally applies to these folks, not the more liberal mainstream Christians that they disdain. They've turned their version of Christianity into a sect that glorifies wealth instead of helping the poor, and whose only real issues seem to be hatred of homosexuality and abortion. It should be clear to anyone who actually reads the Bible that the first tenet there is entirely contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, and the other two are by no means the most important issues with which a Christian should be concerned.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Time Travel is Possible

Now, to be fair, possible doesn't mean easy, but still. The energy requirements are so far beyond what our civilization can produce that they're hard to imagine, but the point is that the laws of physics don't explicitly prevent it from happening. According to astrophysicist Ethan Siegal, what you need is a pair of entangled wormholes and a way to accelerate one end to the speed of light. Then someone in the future could pass through the wormhole and arrive in the past. The only issue is that it's a one-way trip, at least through the wormhole.

Time travel has been the holy grail of science for centuries but it could finally be within our grasp. There is just one problem, we might not be able to return to the present from the past.

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel has outlined in his blog Starts With a Bang how the theoretical rules of physics might allow a way to use wormholes to travel back in time. A wormhole which is still at one end and as fast as the speed of light at the other could provide the basis for humans to step back into another era. This will not be easy, and considering how many people get confused when the clocks go forward or back the chances of successfully pulling off the creation of time travelling wormholes could be tough.

Siegal said: ‘If, 40 years ago, someone had created such a pair of entangled wormholes and sent them off on this journey, it would be possible to step into one of them today, in 2017, and wind up back in time at the mouth of the other one back in 1978. ‘The only issue is that you yourself couldn’t also have been at that location back in 1978; you needed to be with the other end of the wormhole, or traveling through space to try and catch up with.’

As far as returning to the present, that actually is so easy (relative to going through everything that you would have to do to create and accelerate time-entangled wormholes, of course) it doesn't even get a mention in the article. We already know how to do that, and it's a mainstay of every introduction to relativity theory. You just go really, really fast. That's how the "twins paradox" works. The fast-moving twin who doesn't age isn't rendered ageless, he or she experiences dilated time - in effect, the same thing as jumping forward in time.

So if you jump into the past via a wormhole, it's entirely possible for you to get back. Just fly through space at very close to the speed of light and make a really big loop that starts and ends at the earth. When you finish your journey, hardly any time will have passed for you but many years will have passed on earth and you will have traveled in time in the other direction.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

New SubGenius Documentary in the Works

Inquiring minds have been asking the question for years - is the Church of the SubGenius a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke? More importantly, might it be both? Dangerous Minds reports that the makers of a new documentary claim that for the first time, their film will tell the true story of how J. R. "Bob" Dobbs and the church came to be - that is, if they can raise enough money on Kickstarter to pay for post-production.

The Church of the SubGenius’ annus mirabilis, 1998, may have come and gone (or it may be yet to come, as some of the faithful believe), but it’s never been easier to hear the word of “Bob.” OSI 74 carries on the Church’s TV ministry. Evangelical radio programs such as Hour of Slack, Puzzling Evidence, and Ask Dr. Hal no longer splutter from our computer speakers in a pitiable dribble of RealAudio 1.0, but burst forth in full stereo at 64 Kbps, a mighty firehose of Slack. The classic SubGenius recruitment movie Arise!, which used to cost 20 whole dollars, is now just as free as an ISKCON book with Ganesha on the cover. And The Book of the SubGenius is still in print.

But a documentary in the works promises to do something new for the Church, namely, to situate its founding and founders in real, actual historical time. Slacking Towards Bethlehem: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius will tell the story of Rev. Ivan Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond meeting in mid-Seventies Texas as young weirdos. The pair “quickly forged a friendship over a shared love of comic books, Captain Beefheart and UFO paperbacks,” in the words of the movie’s press release, before starting a religion that won converts in R. Crumb, Robert Anton Wilson, DEVO, Frank Zappa and Negativland. Directing is Austin filmmaker Sandy K. Boone, whose late husband, David Boone, directed the 1980 cult film Invasion of the Aluminum People, which might be “an allegorical testimony for the Church of the SubGenius.”

The Church of the SubGenius was always dedicated to the virtue of Crass Consumerism, so it's no surprise to see a Kickstarter appeal to raise money for the film. And whatever else you want to say about the SubGenius movement, it has never failed to be deeply, deeply weird. The world could use more of that, especially these days. Which is to say, we all would appreciate a lot more slack. The article includes a link to the Kickstarter for the film, in case you would like to contribute and receive your very own bizarre backer reward.

I hope to see this get funded, because no matter what the truth is it sounds like it will be a lot of fun to watch. I'll be sure to update my readers here if and when it becomes available.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Witchcraft Accusations Prompt Zimbabwe Coup

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who probably is not a witch

While the situation in the African nation of Zimbabwe appears to be up in the air for now, news outlets are reporting today on what appears to be a military coup in progress against Robert Mugabe, who has been president of the country since 1987 after serving as prime minister from 1980-1987. Many years ago Mugabe played an instrumental role in Zimbabwe's struggle against colonial rule, but he has also been criticized as an authoritarian dictator who has become wealthy while taking advantage of his people.

Where this story falls into Augoeides territory is that the coup appears to have been precipitated by Mugabe's dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe accused of witchcraft last week.

Addressing supporters at the headquarters of his Zanu-PF party in Harare, 93-year-old Mugabe accused Emmerson Mnangagwa of consulting witchdoctors and prophets as part of a campaign to secure the presidency. Mnangagwa, who was sacked by Mugabe on Monday and expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF party on Wednesday, said he had fled Zimbabwe because of death threats and was safe.

"My sudden departure was caused by incessant threats on my person, life and family by those who have attempted before through various forms of elimination including poisoning," he said in a statement on Wednesday. The head of the influential war veterans association, Chris Mutsvangwa, said that Mnangagwa, 75, would travel to Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa "very soon".

Mugabe's critics claim that the charges against Mnangagwa are trumped up, and that Mugabe dismissed him so that he could install his wife, Grace Mugabe, as his successor. This created divisions within Zimbabwe's ruling party, and those divisions appear to be fueling the coup.

Mugabe told supporters he had dismissed Mnangagwa for disloyalty and disrespect, as well as using witchcraft to take power. The move exacerbated divisions in the ZANU-PF party, where the youth faction is firmly on Grace Mugabe’s side, while the older veterans of the struggle against white rule look to Mnangagwa. At one point last month, Grace Mugabe even warned that supporters of Mnangagwa were planning their own coup.

Mnangagwa, who fled to neighboring South Africa, has strong support with the military, and Chiwenga, the army chief, threatened Monday to “step in” to stop the purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters. The military was once a key pillar of Mugabe’s rule. The party’s website later reported that Mnangagwa was back in the country and would be taking over leadership of the party. Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said by phone that the military will probably try to pressure Mugabe to step down in favor of Mnangagwa as acting president.

Mugabe is known for leveling witchcraft charges against his political opponents, and Mnangagwa is not the first high-ranking member of the government to be dismissed because of them. So it's likely that the charges are made up. But if they're not, this is a good place to point out that magick sometimes works in mysterious or unexpected ways.

Let's say that Mnangagwa did a spell to make him president, without any particular limitations. One way for the spell to work would be for this exact situation to unfold, provided that when the dust clears Mnangagwa really does come out on top. A success is always a success, regardless of how it manifests.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Roy Moore Needs to Go Away

Back in September I covered "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore's return to Alabama politics. At the time he was favored to win the Republican primary against sitting senator Luther Strange. Moore did win the primary, and was heavily favored to win the election - that is, until allegations of sexual abuse from his past came to light. He may yet win because Alabama is such a conservative state, but many Republicans are now calling on him to withdraw from the race in light of these allegations.

The thing is, though, that as I've pointed out here on Augoeides and as this Slate article explains, Moore was always unfit for public office. He's been removed from office twice for refusing to abide by decisions of the courts, believes that the Bible should be the rule and guide to law, and that Muslims - or really, anybody who isn't Christian - should not be allowed to hold public office. He's the same sort of religious extremist that he accuses fundamentalist Muslims of being, and to be clear, I would be just as opposed to a Muslim who believed that the Koran trumped the Constitution as I am to Moore.

Indeed, Moore has campaigned for this Senate seat on the theory that the Bible overrides federal law: “The Judeo-Christian God reigned over both the church and the state in this country, and … both owed allegiance to that God,” he has said. He thinks that “Christianity should be favored by the state” in America and that Muslims who are democratically elected to office should not be allowed to serve. He has called Islam a “false religion” and asserts that the “rule of law” demands that NFL players stand for the national anthem.

James Dobson, an emblematic Moore supporter on the Christian right, describes the disgraced justice as “a tireless champion of religious liberty, standing down those who want nothing less than to rid our nation of its Judeo-Christian foundations.” Today, that “tireless champion” of family values stands accused of, among other horrific acts, offering a 14-year-old girl alcohol and asking her to touch his penis. That it took this alleged breach for the Republican Party to maybe lose faith in him speaks to its broken constitutional values.

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin put it, even before Moore’s accusers came forward, his and Arpaio’s place in the Republican Party firmament risked “making contempt for courts into a mainstay of the GOP ideology.”

One of the oddities that has emerged from the allegations against Moore is an aspect of fundamentalist Christian culture that I was previously unaware of. Apparently, not only do they home-school their kids to keep them away from the "godlessness" of the modern world, they encourage their young teenage daughters to "court" much older men. That's apparently what Moore was doing when he was "dating" teenage girls when he was a district attorney in his thirties. Frankly, I find that creepy as hell, even regardless of the abuse allegations. People did marry at fifteen or sixteen in Biblical times, but that was back when the average life expectancy was only forty years or so.

It should be obvious that it's a lot different today with people routinely living into their eighties, and wives and daughters no longer considered the property of their father and then their husband. I can't really fathom why it would be remotely reasonable to roll the clock back on that, but apparently it makes sense to these folks because from their perspective it's "God's law." Suffice it to say that the customs of a civilization from thousands of years ago are not a good fit for the modern world, nor should they be.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Considerations for Conjuring

Since it's Magick Monday and I'm not in the middle of an ongoing series, I thought I would sum up some of the ideas from today's discussion in the comments regarding figuring out the best way to work on a particular magical problem. One of the issues with the state of modern magick is that there are all sorts of methods available that were considered secret even a hundred years ago, and as a result the modern magician is faced with a completely different problem than the magician of old. Instead of having to track down a bunch of secret lore in order to do magick at all, the modern magician has just about every possible method to choose from.

The whole obsession with secrecy has held magick back for centuries. In the physical sciences, we have long since had a shared base of knowledge that continually evolves towards a more accurate representation of the universe with every new experiment. Magick, on the other hand, is still at the level of a proto-science at best, with all sorts of competing models and methods and no real agreement on what works the best for accomplishing particular objectives. I remain confident that such a schema will eventually emerge from magical culture as a whole, but so far we're just not there yet.

So here's the question - how do you determine the right approach to solving a problem with magick? I can't say that I have the entire answer, but there are some basic principles that I have been able to work out by experimentation over the years. The first of these is that practical magick works by adjusting probabilities in the physical world. I don't personally believe in "supernatural" forces, but as I see it that belief is a bit of a tautology. Everything that exists is natural, so by definition "supernatural" makes little sense when discussing anything real.

That being said, I do believe that those probability adjustments rise to the level of paranormal, since such probability shifts are unusual and don't follow the "normal" order of things. Some of that is because in the overall scheme of things there are really hardly any magicians or occultists out there. I expect that magical probability shifts would become more "normal" if more people practiced magick, but to be fair that really is just a guess. It may be that most magically talented people already do it, and it's the talent itself that's rare.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

It's a Miracle!

When I complain about faith healers here at Augoeides, it usually has to do with people who insist that faith healing cannot be done in conjunction with conventional medical treatment. Faith healing - that is, magical healing - can and does work, but just like with any other spell, the mundane steps that you take towards your goal such as conventional medical care help to bring the likelihood of a successful cure within the probability range that the spell can create. So with anything life-threatening, arguing that conventional care somehow undermines magical care is especially dangerous.

But this article is not one of those cases. Pastor Mboro of South Africa, a popular celebrity preacher who does faith healing, used his powers to cure a man's erectile dysfunction on his television program. The man and his wife immediately had sex, which prompted the television station to refuse to show the episode - even though the sex was blurred out. Mboro is planning a march on the station to protest the decision.

He told Sunday World: ‘Thabisile came to church a while ago and complained that although she was blessed with three children and recently got a promotion at work, she was sex-starved because her husband suffered from erectile dysfunction. I went there and entered their bedroom and asked them to put their hands on their private parts. After that I prayed for them and the husband immediately regained his erection.’

Grateful wife Thabisile said: ‘My husband got his erection back and when he came back from outside to call the crew to film our testimony, we were already busy having sex. We just couldn’t wait as it had been long since we had sex. I apologised to the pastor for doing that because that was embarrassing.’

Pastor Mboro has blurred out the sex for his TV show and claims the testimony of the couple is no more pornographic than other programs on the station. ‘Every weekend we watch movies which have episodes where people are shown having sex. Here there is no sex but they can’t show it. They have not shown two of my shows as a result of this dispute.’

Now you can point out that a lot of erectile dysfunction can be psychological, which makes it a prime target for faith healing, and I won't disagree with you. Just from this incident, it's hard to say (pun intended) whether Pastor Mboro really has highly effective paranormal healing powers. Mboro has come up on Augoeides before, and his previous statements make him sound like a complete fake, or at the very least highly prone to exaggeration.

But at the same time, my first rule of magick is that if it works it works, and that's apparently what happened here - to the chagrin of the television station in question. I also think that it's good to see a Christian pastor doing something that is basically sex-positive, as opposed to the anti-sex fire-and-brimstone stuff that usually makes the news, even if it is an over-the-top self-promoter like Mboro.

As far the television station goes, I don't know how explicit South African television is, and I'm sure that there probably are various standards that they try to adhere to with obscenity laws and so forth. I can see American authorities being squeamish about this sort of thing as well, even though it seems to me with the actual sex blurred out, there really isn't much to see compared with what is shown on a lot of other programs.

So I think the television station should go ahead and air the episode with the offending portion blurred out, as Mboro is demanding - that is, unless there's a compelling reason under South African law that prohibits them from doing it.